Conjurer, Juggler & Magician ‘Dante The Great’

To celebrate the arrival of The Illusionists 1903 to Arts Centre Melbourne, we’ve been delving into the Performing Arts Collection to explore some Magicians of the past who are represented in the Collection.
Today we’re featuring Oscar Eliason, known professionally as ‘Dante The Great’.
1984.088.001 – Poster for Dante The Great’s Australian performance, 1889. Performing Arts Collection.


Oscar Eliason (1896 – 1899) was the first of many magicians to use the title ‘Dante’. He was an American Mormon, born in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1869.  His parents were Swedish immigrants and his father, a jeweller by profession, enjoyed magic as a hobby.  Oscar pursued his own interest in magic, making his amateur debut in 1889 and turning professional four years later.

During the mid 1890s he toured Texas, Mexico, Cuba and Canada, performing with his wife who was billed as Madame Edmunda.  By 1898, Oscar Eliason had adopted the stage name Dante the Great.  Travelling with his family, Dante set sail for Australia and New Zealand, performing in Honolulu en route.

For over a year the young Dante and his company greatly impressed audiences throughout Australia and New Zealand.  His career as a great magician, however, was cut short by tragedy.  While in Dubbo, New South Wales, Dante joined a rabbit shooting party and was accidentally shot.  Three days later, apparently after asking for a glass of champagne, Dante died of his injuries.

Collection holdings include references in scrapbooks of the period and this extraordinary poster above, with its evocative descriptions of Dante The Great’s incredible acts.

Published by

Performing Arts Collection

Arts Centre Melbourne's Performing Arts Collection is the national leader among specialist performing arts collections in Australia. Established in 1975, it is formally recognised as a State collection and encompasses the history of circus, dance, music, opera and theatre. The Collection features over 640,000 items including costumes, designs, photographs, set models, puppets, props, posters, programs and archives.

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